Whether it’s a current hobby or a romantic fantasy – opening a winery or planting a vineyard in Maryland can be an exciting – and profitable – business opportunity.
In 2004, Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich convened an exploratory task force to investigate ways of helping the state’s wine/grape industry. This group produced a 52-recommendation report titled Maryland Wine: The Next Vintage [PDF] outlining how the state, the wine/grape industry associations and the university can help grow Maryland’s industry. That task force is now a permanent body that will meet quarterly to discuss issues facing the industry and work to ensure Maryland becomes a leader in winegrowing.
REMEMBER: Wineries and vineyards are agriculture, pure and simple. Your hands will get dirty in this business, and it’s only through hard work and dedication that your winery/vineyard project will succeed. Both can be very costly to start, and even more costly to “fix” if you employ poor planning.
ADVICE: Talk with the industry groups, the University and current growers and winemakers to learn about the industry, its current challenges and needs. If you’re planting a vineyard – find out what grapes the wineries need most, BUT REMEMBER that your site will not sustain all varieties. If you’re starting a winery, conduct an initial market study to learn which wines are most widely marketable, and then which grapes are most readily available.
LEARN, LEARN, LEARN: We’re sponsoring many courses and workshops to help prospective, new and experienced growers and wineries expand their knowledge. Members are the first to know; we encourage you to join the MWA.
Facts You Need to Know to Start a Winery in Maryland
- Wineries must be authorized by the TTB on the Federal level via a Wine Basic Permit, the Comptroller’s office at the State level in the form of a Class 3 or Class 4 winery license, and be allowed to exist under the county’s zoning code. Local issues may arise with city or community-level organizations. The county zoning code states allowable operations – often called “enabling legislation.” Most counties’ zoning states that a winery may exist and that it is permitted to exist in certain zoning areas (rural, ag, commercial, etc). In some instances, this wording must be added to allow a winery to exist. Changing this code can take months (or years!), so please talk with MWA prior to proceeding to ensure your zoning is correct.
- There are two winery licenses available in Maryland: Class 3 and Class 4.
- The Class 4 license is considered to be Maryland’s “farm winery” license – and mandates that licensees use Maryland-grown fruit unless the Secretary of Agriculture determines there is an insufficient supply. MWA hosts a forum where growers and wineries can post their supply and needs.
- The Class 4 license allows a winery to sell wine it produces at retail (by the glass, bottle or case) to visitors. The Class 3 is designed to be a production facility only, and the law severely limits direct customer access to the wine.
- The TTB/Feds regulate and approve all wine labels. Wine labels must be submitted for approval prior to sale of the wine. Submitting hard copies of your labels creates a long process – taking up to two months. It’s better to register with the TTB to submit online label applications. This can be done via the COLA system.
The Process of Becoming a Licensed Winery in Maryland
- Really, truly understand what it means to be a licensed winery. Talk with Dr. Joe Fiola at the University of Maryland, speak with the Maryland Wineries Association, current wineries, growers and suppliers to get a feel for the time, energy and investment necessary for a successful operation.
- Join the Maryland Wineries Association as an associate member – you’ll learn a lot by attending the meetings and getting to know the other wineries and state officials who regularly attend the meetings.
- Find a location and begin discussions with the local jurisdictions/zoning boards about your winery operation. This is the only place where legislation may be necessary – if your county does not currently authorize wineries.
- Carefully complete both the Federal and State winery applications. The State will wait to approve your application until you receive your Federal permit. If you get it right the first time, the Federal application process can take as little as 4-6 weeks. For all intents and purposes, you’re a winery when the Fed says you are. You can’t yet operate or sell in MD, but you’re nonetheless a bonded winery. Start your label design and TTB label approval process now.
- Notify the State of your Federal approval. The State process, assuming everything is in order, can take 6-8 weeks. Once you’ve submitted your application, an agent from the Comptroller’s office will visit/inspect your manufacturing facility. The process will end (successfully) with notification of the granting of your license..
- It’s at this point that you can make and sell your wine to the public, attend festivals, sell to retail stores and restaurants, and attend farmers’ markets.
Learn more about the industry by joining the Maryland Wineries Association.
Winery Licensing Information
Federal Winery Application Packet
There are a slew of forms to complete – all available on the TTB’s website.